Hungry poems for sobering histories

Our Familiar Hunger opens up the Canadian-Ukrainian experience temporally and spatially

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Image courtesy of Nightwood Editions

By: Gabrielle McLaren

Though the premise of a poetry collection on Ukrainian-Canadian women sounds straightforward, Laisha Rosnau taps into a long, ugly, and complicated history that includes concentration camps, global waves of immigration, westward expansion, government abuse, urbanization, shifting conservatism, the patriarchy, and the sex trade. By the way, Our Familiar Hunger isn’t a particularly cheerful book.

     This small pink book contains a litany of themes, but they all support a bigger message of community and resilience; Rosnau jumps not only from Ukraine to Canada, but also across generations of women. It’s a creative and mesmerizing way to recall an often forgotten piece of history.

     Rosnau doesn’t focus on the facts themselves, but on the people, emotions, and experiences that will lead a curious reader to the facts. Her work illustrates what these experiences look like under different lights and perspectives. As someone who’s worked in historical interpretation, I admire the cleverness of Rosnau’s concept and approach to sharing these stories, even if her writing style didn’t blow my mind or strike me as anything out of the ordinary.    

     Every poem helped you understand the next, or made you go back to another. A particularly striking moment was a young girl with an eating disorder being told to eat because her mother, upon immigrating from Ukraine as a young woman, had starved for her first few years in Canada. Future poems about first-generation immigrants always made me think back, is this the grandmother from before? Rosnau reimagines the stories and histories of these Ukrainian-Canadians, and by doing so makes sure they aren’t lost forever.

      Wanna borrow this book? Stop by the Peak office!